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ICANN shoots down incoming Cruz missiles

White House wannabe's letter not coterminous with honesty from under-fire DNS overseer

DNS overlord ICANN has responded to an angry letter from three US Congressmen accusing it of failing to answer questions ... by sending a letter that fails to answer their questions.

Earlier this week, the three senators, including Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, complained to ICANN chairman Steve Crocker that the organization had not responded to questions it had sent in two previous letters.

Most of the questions concerned the decision by ICANN's former CEO Fadi Chehade to front an internet governance effort led by the Chinese government, including what ICANN's board knew about his decision.

This comes amid ICANN's maneuvering to take full control of IANA, which oversees three crucial pillars of the internet: the top-level of the domain-name system, IP address allocation, and communication protocol management.

The Congressmen's letters also dug into the relationship that ICANN has with the Chinese government, particularly around its "engagement center" in Beijing. The senators appended copies and asked ICANN again to respond to their questions by Thursday April 7.

ICANN's Crocker responded [PDF]. But for a third time in a row, seemingly to a different letter than the one sent, and without responding to the numbered questions provided by Cruz at al.

The question of ICANN's unusual arrangement with the Chinese government – in particular its engagement center that is inside the offices of the government-run organization that operates China's .cn top-level domain, CNNIC – was addressed only by reference to the fact that ICANN has meetings all over the world.

"ICANN's engagement with China as a global Internet stakeholder does not suggest any level of support for the nation's government or its policies," he argues, noting that many US companies do business in China.

Crocker failed to address the fact that the Chinese engagement center was the only one of nine that did not have its address listed on ICANN's website. Or the fact that ICANN reportedly pays CNNIC for the space.

When quizzed about the Beijing office, former CEO Fadi Chehade gave several incorrect responses, claiming that its location within CNNIC's offices was included in a press release announcing the new center – it was not – and that it was common practice for ICANN to share facilities with existing registries abroad, when in fact the Beijing office is the only one.

Coterminous or contemptuous?

As to Chehade's controversial decision to front the World Internet Forum – which is the Chinese government's effort to influence global internet governance – Crocker again ignored all the questions sent by the senators, saying only that Chehade's decision to take on the position "is not coterminous with his position at ICANN."

It notes that Chehade left his post on March 15 and will not take up the role until later this year. "The Board is not aware of any conflicts of interest relating to his activities during his tenure," Crocker writes, while ignoring a slew of questions over whether the board knew of Chehade's decision ahead of time, whether it approved it, and whether it decided not to censure him in order to avoid upsetting the Chinese government.

As much as Cruz is disliked in the Senate and outside for his zero-sum-game approach to issues, it is notable that ICANN continues to refuse to answer direct and important questions about its relationship with the Chinese government and the systems it has in place to avoid being unduly influenced in the future.

As ever with ICANN, its attitude appears to be: we know best and we're under no obligation to explain our thinking to you or anyone else.

The organization is calculating that Cruz does not have sufficient sway in the Senate to delay or derail the shift of the IANA contract from the US government to ICANN later this year. And that Cruz will not become president despite being one of the five likely candidates.

It is a gamble that ICANN would not take were it not so obsessed with maintaining absolute secrecy over its board's deliberations. ®

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